1˚ Pavilhão Maxwell Alexandre
Novo Poder: passabilidade
contemporary Art and Fashion
We know that Fashion and Art are two fields of Western hegemonic culture that have been consolidated in modernity, each with its own specificities, yet having in common the strong influence they have in the construction of social distinctions. Both Art and Fashion operate in a complex system that legitimises determined hierarchies, and they both involve aspects linked to the development of concepts of beauty and aesthetic values. Fashion reinforces the values established by consumer society, while Art provokes these values, teaching us to dream with more critical perspectives. Operating in their specific contexts—on the one hand, catwalks and fashion magazines; on the other, museums and art galleries—the productions of these two different fields cross one another at some moments while in other cases their borders are blurred. We know that Fashion, in Western reality, guides people’s choices and preferences, indicating what we should consume, use or make. But it is important to observe that it also works as a means of manifesting power, prestige and cultural distinction, as well as financial capital, making it similar to contemporary art, as a holder of great intellectual and symbolic capital.
Clothes, jewellery and hair, as well as canvasses and frames, serve as aesthetic elements that add value and status to a body. These symbols are also an important influence in everyday life. This takes place mainly due to two factors: the symbolic meaning that they represent and the physical experience of showing off something valuable. In other words, a wristwatch is not only an accessory, and wearing a piece of clothing that we like and feel good in, just like the act of framing an artwork, can translate into an affirmation of power.
According to Maxwell Alexandre, the lack of interest in contemporary art in the urban outskirts and favelas is a constructed program. Contemporary art is a segment of the elite, to the point of configuring lines of social distinction among the wealthy. For those who own yachts, helicopters, mansions and pools as commonplace goods, art becomes a reference for defining who is more sophisticated. Thus, whoever has a valuable painting on their wall and can understand the artist has a feather in their cap. The same thing happens in the fashion world—the sensation of entering a Louis Vuitton store is like that of entering the Louvre—when the black body occupies these spaces the feeling of exclusion shouts within it, while for the white body the feeling is that of belonging.
filho da PUC.
The intersection of Maxwell Alexandre's production with the Fashion world gained greater intensity during the period when he was a student at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. As a student in the design course at PUC-Rio, Maxwell had access to the fashion laboratories, where he was able to gather the necessary material for his experiments: scraps of kraft paper full of sketches and notes that were discarded in the modelling classes. His condition as a student allowed him to probe materials that were left out in those spaces as an alternative for creating artworks, despite his lack of economic resources at that moment. Upon discovering this material, the artist gradually reached the necessary familiarity to germinate the first paintings that gave rise to the Pardo é Papel series.
Painting black characters who display attitude and positions of power on those fragments of paper, used in the construction of clothing, was a powerful intersection which Maxwell Alexandre found to draw attention to the fact that both Art and Fashion are key underpinnings of current society. Thus, by relating the exhibition spaces of Art and Fashion, the artist affirms that these are cultural spaces profoundly connected to a position of power, considering that the fundamental venue of the fashion circuit is the catwalk and that of Art is the museum. As such, they are spaces that need to be claimed by black bodies, as it is here that history is legitimised, and these places are where the narratives and the construction of images are manipulated.
between the Church and the Institution, a Pavilion.
Due to the unpredictability, fragility and intensity of Maxwell Alexandre’s production, it is necessary to create a supplementary space, exclusively for his work, so it can be shown outside the official circuit of contemporary art. Aware of the extraordinary volume of his production, Maxwell knows that the agenda of every institution is limited and could never comprehensively cover all of his work that is now underway. Since museums and galleries have a range of interests, they need to attend to other artists and to establish diversity in their programs. The Maxwell Alexandre Pavilion is the artist’s exclusive chapel, an attempt to curate and show his developments and interests as they are being developed, in real time. It is where all his mythology still under development is brought together: unfinished works can be shown, without all the commercial tension and red tape that demand finished, secure and immaculate art objects. This is a fundamental premise of the new building in comparison to the circulation of artworks in the market and in the prevailing institutions. The artist understands that his pavilion is a place of risk, for showing vulnerability, works still in immature phases, questionable works that can arouse uneasiness.
not everything that is shown has to be sold. not everything that is created has to become an individual heritage.
Since the outset of his career, Maxwell has constantly dealt with questions and concerns about the exhibition, acquisition and conservation of his work. The new oil paintings that arrive still wet at the artist’s first Pavilion, none of them available for sale, would certainly be questionable in a commercial setting due to the vulnerability of the contact of the oil paint with the surface of the acidic paper. The Pavilion shelters the work’s insecurity, and allows Maxwell to affirm something that he has been trying to establish in his relationships with the galleries: not everything that is shown needs to be sold, just as not everything that was sold has to last forever. The market and the art collecting sector needs to be educated in this sense. The artwork is not an extension of heritage; rather, the research itself, along with its development, must be seen as a collective heritage of society. In an interview given to Lux magazine, on the occasion of his exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery in London in 2020, Maxwell Alexandre stated:
(...) All of this potential, however, would be lost if I had listened to a series of agents there at the outset, when I showed the first large panel, which gave rise to various questionings skewed toward a market logic. I heard things like: ‘don’t do that because it is a big problem to conserve these paintings’ or ‘it will be very difficult to sell, work with smaller formats and we will be able to sell everything.’ Even a large museum institution asked me to paint five canvases so that they could acquire them instead of the large paintings on paper. Their concerns about the work’s conservation and vulnerability was a great hindrance.
I did not follow this advice because I had not constructed the large paintings of Pardo é Papel to be something commercial or durable. My commitment was to the research. I knew the potential the work had, and I chose it as a flag to stake into the ground of the institutions; to open a path, without any concern about sales. The travelling exhibition of Pardo é Papel, which toured museums around the world, was my strategy from the beginning to convey this message.”
by necessity, not by concept.
Up to now, Maxwell has constructed all the semantics of his work using materials that are less traditional in art history, including latex wall paint, shoe polish, and henê hair relaxer/dye. However, since the beginning of his professional career, in 2018, there has been strong pressure and demand for oil paintings by the artist, preferably on canvas. Maxwell explains that the only reason he didn’t use oil paint at the beginning of his career was that he couldn’t afford it, and that the few canvases among his early production were also collected in the fashion lab at his college or found on the street. As he progressed in his career and achieved financial stability through the recognition of his work, Maxwell was able to afford oil paints for his artistic practice. And yet he preferred to keep using the same rudimentary materials he had experimented with at the beginning of his career, which had created a very particular identity in that period.
The artist also disliked the idea of catering to the market’s utmost fetish: oil on canvas. That was another reason he stayed true to painting with wall paint on brown kraft paper. With time, however, it became clear that it was not just a rebellious attitude, as these materials proved to be consistent with the artist’s themes and approaches. Moreover, these more rudimentary materials also helped to underscore questions in regard to collecting, heritage, and the commercial relationship between Maxwell’s work and galleries, since the fragility and uncertain durability of his work were inherent to the alchemy between these painting materials and the material he painted on – the paper. This is an intriguing question for the artist as he tests how far he can heighten the quality of his work in balance with the desire by collectors to acquire it, while also considering conservation issues. In an interview with the Documental Journal, on the occasion of his first exhibition in the United States, at the The Shed in New York, in 2022, the artist stated:
(...) That is an interesting issue to consider, because when you look at my work today—and observe both the physical support and the constructive, pictorial materials—you might assume that it has all been thought out in great detail. The bricks, the hair dye, the shoe polish, the latex paint—in all of these elements, there is a strong coherence [between the materials and] the subject matter that I am revealing. But these decisions were made out of necessity. I did not have money to make paintings with oil on canvas. I was thinking about what was financially accessible, but had pictorial potential. That is how I started using henna dye; it is very much part of the [culture I grew up in]. I remembered the smell of it, which sent me back to childhood. The shoe polish I use for painting today is the same I used on my boots when I was serving in the army. The wall paint that I like so much—for its porosity and matte appearance—used to cost just 20 Brazilian reals for a large bucket. I would have enough paint for the whole year. Basically, my media and materials were chosen out of necessity and not because of their aesthetic or conceptual coherence.
oil paint, the most glamorous material in art history.
Contemporary artists often use new technologies, such as projectors, computers, smart phones and unconventional materials like steel, copper, iron, other metals, and even documents. The inventiveness of this period often uses traditional materials in novel ways, or resorts to new artistic practices such as performance, video art and installation. Even so, the most traditional technique in our history, oil on canvas, still represents more than half the interest in the market. And oil on canvas continues to be the most glamorous technology even today.
When Maxwell arose in the art circuit using other pictorial materials, such as a very specific sort of paper linked to his very particular way of painting, he brought a breath of fresh air to the practice and it was as though painting were being updated. Curiously, in recent years, even while using questionable materials, the artist managed to establish himself, exponentially increasing the market value and demand by speculators for his work, even while delivering nothing else but large, 5-meter-long sheets of paper, painted with wall paint. Considering how the use of paper as well as large format both present an obstacle to commercialization, it is impressive how much commercial success the artist has achieved while staying true to the roots of his research and interests.
Although it’s possible to find oil paint in some of the artist’s first works, it was not until this year that Maxwell painted an entire banner on brown kraft paper with oil paint. Measuring 320 x 480 cm, he made this work for the exhibition New Power: Passability in Spain. Even while this new painting indicates a new positioning by the artist in relation to the tensions and fetishes of the market, it is still made on the same fragile and less durable acidic paper. Furthermore, the oil paint could be more damaging on contact with the paper’s surface than the other materials Maxwell has used previously. This large oil painting also makes sense in light of the artist’s increasing recognition and success. Bringing oil into his painting practice at this moment is fitting as an affirmation of prosperity and abundance.
Beyond these speculations, we can also take a look at the questions more inherent to the construction of a large new painting in oil on brown kraft paper featured in the exhibition in Madrid. This one obviously has a different treatment than the others in the show made with more precarious materials. With the oil paint, the painting is more vibrant and has a thick layer that does not to reveal so much the folds and wrinkles in the paper, nor its transparence. The work’s visual weight can be perceived from a distance, and this weight is an actual physical reality, demanding an adjustment in his system for installing his works to ensure that the painting doesn’t fall during the show.
the Spain x Brazil connection
The pavilion quickly opened its doors on the first day in April, on time to make a connection with Maxwell Alexandre’s first solo show in Spain. Titled New Power: Passability, the show was inaugurated at the beginning of February in Madrid, at the La Casa Encendida cultural center, and will run until April 16.
Since the artist has a mostly international exhibition agenda, the Maxwell Alexandre Pavilion is expected to expand, in Brazil, the debate concerning what is being shown in galleries and museums abroad. The aim is to kindle dialogue and provide a local audience with access to the artist’s work and its long-term development.
In the Novo Poder [New Power] series, artist Maxwell Alexandre explores the idea of the black community inside the established temples for the contemplation of contemporary art: galleries, museums and foundations. To this end, he emphasises three basic signs: the colours black, white and brown. The colour black operates as the black body manifested by the figurative depiction of characters; the colour white represents the so-called white cube, mirroring the exhibition space along with academic knowledge; and the colour brown represents the artwork while also making a self-reference to the paper used as the main support for the paintings in this series.
A secure, tranquil walk through the white cube. This is Maxwell Alexandre’s concept of passability.
First introduced in the New Power series in Spain, the notion of passability is being developed and arrives at the Pavilion with a sharper approach, through an ambitious installation with more than 50 portraits, all produced with oil paint on brown kraft paper. Self-assured and aware in these spaces – museums and galleries – which in prior times were hostile to melanized people, the characters walk elegantly, like models strutting on a catwalk. In New Power: Passability, the artist makes an intersection between fashion and contemporary art, denoting the two fields as platforms of empowerment, offering individuals dignity and self-esteem.
the presence and the body.
Unlike at La Casa Encendida, at the Pavilion passability is established through the emphasis on the characters depicted in the works. This is why the paper assumes a vertical – 210 x 90 cm – format, thus bearing the idea of the body and the human scale. This verticality also reinforces the perception of passage and intensifies the notion of a corridor and a catwalk.
In passability, Maxwell removes the brown rectangles from the composition of each work, and the art object goes out of focus to emphasize the individual within the exhibition space, affirming his or her presence in a scenario in which the power of the image is disputed. Like at a vernissage – where, even though it is an event for celebrating works of art, the really important thing is the social gathering. At such vernissages, the dynamics of power and social distinction are reflected in codes ranging from clothing and accessories to one’s manner of speaking and appreciating art, as well as which conversation circle one takes part in. It is a glamorous and vain game of the art world, where the body and presence of the attendees are more the focus of the interactions than is the sacred object in the frame or on the pedestal. Strutting, walking confidently on a day like today is the affirmation of this New Power that Maxwell is reinforcing now, also, through the concept of passability.
portrait, oil paint, and dignity
By concealing the art object in the scene and choosing the portrait – a painting genre that depicts the human subject with dignity – Maxwell put the main focus on the black figures and their elegant walk through the white cube. “To me it seems very consistent to use the most glamorous material in art history, oil paint, to make portraits in passability. Oil paint is generous in the sense of providing more splendid and vibrant visual results. The paint’s sophistication coupled with the elegance of the painted characters engenders the perfect dialogue for conveying the security and tranquility of the completely familiarized figures, walking and belonging self-assured and aware in the art exhibition spaces,” the artist says. Once again, it seems that Maxwell has hit the mark in his formal and conceptual choices and guidelines, for presenting New Power: Passability in his 1st Pavilion.
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